University of Kentucky professor John Garen missed the point in his recent commentary.
Do civil, tolerant societies look the other way when people are suffering from painful, costly disease and early death, especially when there are inexpensive, common sense ways to prevent it?
A killer is on the loose in Kentucky. That killer is tobacco smoke.
Although only 25 percent of Kentuckians smoke, two-thirds are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke at work and in public places. Should workers have to choose between their lives and a job?
Breathing someone else's tobacco smoke significantly increases your chances of getting heart disease and cancer. The U.S. Surgeon General, our nation's doctor, warns the public about the clear and present danger of tobacco smoke.
Is it OK that those you love become passive smokers by working where smoking is allowed? In a tough economy and especially in rural areas, people don't have the option to leave their job.
If, indeed, the hallmark of civil society is caring, politeness and courtesy, why would we subject our loved ones to a serious health risk every time they go to work? Why would we expect them to leave a job to ensure they can breathe healthy air?
According to the Kentucky Supreme Court, it is government's duty to protect the health and safety of its citizens.
Society does not tolerate drunken driving. We do not give people the choice to drink and drive. Drinking alcohol is legal, but when it harms others, society does not tolerate it.
Why, then, should we tolerate secondhand smoke in places where we work? Smoking is legal, but when it harms others, it should not be tolerated. Our country values the beliefs of all people, but not at the expense of any person's health and safety.
Smoke-free laws are not intolerant of smokers' and business owners' rights. They only prohibit smoking in indoor workplaces shared by non-smokers who deserve the right to breathe clean air. Smokers simply step outside to smoke, and businesses still serve them.
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air, and a civil, tolerant society should accommodate that.
I disagree with Garen that state smoke-free legislation forces conformity on the populace without its consent. What about the 75 percent of Kentuckians who don't smoke? The majority of people are non-smokers, and they stand to benefit from this law.
Based on polling, the majority of Kentuckians agree with a smoke-free law so the argument that the population will be forced to conform without agreement is not consistent with public opinion. Thirty-four Kentucky communities already have passed smoke-free policies with outstanding public support and success.
Simply asking smokers to step outside does not stifle civil discourse, nor is it intolerant. The health benefits of smoke-free legislation far outweigh the costs. Smoke-free is good for health and good for business.
It will make our economy stronger, our people healthier and our society more tolerant and respectful of the right to breathe smoke-free air.
Smoke-free legislation promotes public health, consistent with the values we hold dear: quality of life, liberty to breathe smoke-free air and the pursuit of happiness (without getting sick).
It is unfortunate that Garen did not disclose his affiliation as an adjunct scholar with the Bluegrass Public Policy Institute. The institute has a long history of touting an anti-health message by opposing smoke-free campaigns in Kentucky.